Hollywood has long had a fascination with Artificial Intelligence. From Spielberg / Kubrick’s A.I to Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and everything before, since and in between.
I suppose it stands to reason, with rapid advancements in technology and the very real prospect of Artificial Intelligence now frequently revealed through mainstream news outlets, it’s just a matter of time before we come face to face with the type of creation that director Luke Scott brings to the big screen here, in Morgan.
Strictly speaking, the ‘girl’, Morgan, is not an example of Artificial Intelligence, but more a result of genetic tampering and cloning; a controlled experiment creating a sort of humanoid being, but one that’s as close to ‘the real thing’ as has ever been created before.
The film begins with Morgan, draped in her signature grey jogging trousers and hoody combo, attacking one of the scientists that has had a hand in her creation. It’s a sustained, frenzied attack which, by all accounts, is most out of character for Morgan, and a concerning sign that she has developed an ability to exhibit extremely negative emotional responses way beyond that which her creators thought possible.
Such an unfortunate happening results in an enquiry from head office, and Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent in to troubleshoot. She is to make an assessment, and recommend an appropriate course of action. This will involve a short stay at the ‘laboratory’ where Morgan is housed. This takes the form of a high-tech, cutting edge underground bunker; a new built annex of an, at first glance, seemingly abandoned old house in the middle of dense woodland.
Lee is the epitome of an insensitive, hard-nosed, corporate type and quickly proceeds to rub the resident staff of scientists and assistants up the wrong way.
To her creators, Morgan is a true wonder of the world, and someone that they have grown to love and cherish. Crucially, the clear waters that separate work from life have become somewhat muddied for Morgan’s creators. To Weathers, it’s an asset, nothing more, albeit a remarkable one, but one about whom she must make a business decision; from the head, not the heart.
Everything about Morgan hints at real potential. From the impressive cast list – Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan, Toby Jones (Dr. Simon Ziegler), Paul Giamatti (Dr. Alan Shapiro), and Kate Mara (Lee Weathers), to name but a few – the secluded, contemporary Ex Machina-like setting, and a very tangible initial sense of cold discomfort and uncertainty that hangs heavy in the air.
You can point a finger in all manner of directions when good potential amounts to very little, but considering Morgan is a film with designs on being a tense thriller with dark overtones, yet is neither particularly tense nor dark, in this case, the finger of blame must point firmly in Luke Scott’s direction.
As is so often the case, foundations that are initially fairly well pieced together, eventually fall apart. Morgan rapidly runs out of steam, with a disappointing dearth of good ideas and lacking the necessary guile to sustain the story and keep that all important ‘edge’ throughout. It’s as though writer, Seth W. Owen, only ever had half a story, and between himself and Luke Scott, was hoping that they could somehow wing the film’s latter stages.
Somehow they contrive to turn Morgan herself from the potential spawn of Satan, into ‘a bit of a moody teen delinquent’, albeit it one with impressive martial arts skills. Night time may well form the backdrop to a few choice, assorted scenes of mild violence, but that’s really as ‘dark’ as Morgan gets.
What in another director’s hands may well still have proven to be ‘the big reveal’ at the end, ultimately unravels like the curling, rain-sodden cardboard of a disappointing gift from Amazon. We know what’s in it. We can see through the large gaps for heavens’ sake. We just can’t be arsed peeling the last of that protective mush off it, thanks.
It’s not awful by any means, but it’s another undercooked effort lacking both imagination in important areas, and the direction with which to keep us all guessing right until the very end.